Atlantic Southeast Airlines Has Highest Delay Rate

Known as ASA, the regional airline has long grappled with service issues.

The city hired industry consultant Michael Boyd to help.

"Jobs and economic growth are being threatened, and all we hear from ASA is 'We're working on it.' " Boyd said. He believes SkyWest, which now owns ASA, will improve service, but that it may mean replacing ASA's "sloppy and unconcerned" management.

"SkyWest is going to do it, but it's going to take more than just buying equipment," he said. "They need to hose out that whole ASA headquarters."

Higher bumping figures

ASA was launched in 1979 and grew into an independent --- and highly profitable --- contract carrier for Delta. Delta bought out ASA in 1999, citing as one reason a need to improve its service.

In September 2005, just a week before filing for Chapter 11 protection, Delta sold its ASA subsidiary to Utah-based SkyWest and returned to a contract arrangement with the carrier.

Until 2003 it was hard to gauge ASA's service because it wasn't included in the U.S. Department of Transportation's monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. The report lists rates for on-time arrivals and lost luggage, ranking service through hard data rather than the more common --- and less reliable --- yardsticks of anecdote or reputation. ASA was added to the report when the DOT altered it to include more carriers.

The spotlight has been harsh. ASA is usually last in baggage handling --- rated by mishandled bag reports per 1,000 passengers --- and in the bottom half for on-time arrivals.

Lately, it's been worse than that. ASA was last in both categories in June, July, August and September. Its on-time rates were below 60 percent --- a number not often seen in the DOT reports --- in the latter three of those months. It also had 61 of the 135 flights on the September report's list of flights that were late more than 80 percent of the time. One offender, its 6:30 p.m. flight to Atlanta from Akron, Ohio, was late 95 percent of the time, and by an average of 82 minutes.

ASA's lost luggage rate peaked at 24.13 per 1,000 customers in September --- nearly three times the industry average of 8.25.

One apparent mitigating factor was a runway repaving at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which started in September and sent Delta's and AirTran Airways' on-time numbers tumbling for that month as well.

According to DOT numbers, ASA cancels a much higher percentage of flights and bumps passengers four times more often than most carriers. On the other hand, it usually ranks in the middle on consumer complaints filed with the DOT. Other regional carriers, such as American Eagle, also tend to do poorly in the report, though none as chronically as ASA.

SkyWest investing

DiNota says ASA is focusing on baggage handling issues first, because problems there have been so chronic and affect other aspects of the operation. "Bags, unfortunately, are just a side effect of a lot of things," he said.

DiNota believes many of ASA's problems stem from bottlenecks fueled by too little investment and short-staffing. The airline is also working with Delta on scheduling to boost on-time rates and help smooth luggage handling.

DiNota thinks Delta understood how to fix ASA's shortcomings but was thwarted by a lack of funding as it struggled with its own financial problems, which started only a few months after the '99 buyout. SkyWest apparently isn't under the same constraints; its profits have soared almost 60 percent to $183 million during the five quarters that it has owned ASA. The company's SkyWest regional carrier, which operates as a Delta Connection carrier in the Far West, usually does well in the DOT service reports.

ASA plans to spend about $5 million over the next several months on more than 100 baggage carts, 40 airport tugs, portable computers, baggage loading ramps, passenger boarding ramps and other equipment, DiNota said.

ASA also is hiring about 300 employees to beef up operations in baggage handling and at each gate, and to speed up aircraft "turns" --- the amount of time it takes to unload, clean, refuel and load jets.

Delta calls shots

We Recommend